AAA predicts strong Labor Day travel

AAA South Dakota projects 69,000 South Dakotans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday weekend, a three percent increase from the 67,000 South Dakotans who traveled last year. Nationwide, the total number of expected travelers – 33 million – is a 2.9 percent boost over year ago numbers and the strongest Labor Day travel period since 2008, marking a new post-recession high. It's the third increase in holiday travel this year, according to the AAA/IHS Global Insight. AAA's Memorial Day and July 4 holiday travel forecasts projected increases of 1.2 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

Across the U.S., about 28.2 million people (85 percent of all holiday travelers) will make their Labor Day holiday journey by automobile. This is a 3.1 percent increase over the 27.3 million people who took to the nation's roadways in 2011. This year's Labor Day holiday travel period runs from Thursday, Aug. 30 through Monday, Sept. 3.

Labor Day holiday air travel nationally has been fairly consistent since the recession bounce-back began for the travel industry in 2010. About 2.55 million leisure travelers (eight percent of holiday travelers) will fly during the Labor Day weekend, a 3.7 percent increase over 2011 when 2.46 million traveled by air. In 2010, 2.6 million chose to fly to their Labor Day vacation destinations, which began the steady recovery from the decade-low 1.5 million air travelers in 2009. Airfares decreased four percent compared to last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $197 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index.

The remaining seven percent of U.S. Labor Day holiday travelers are expected to use other modes of transportation, including cruise ship, rail, multi-modal and bus travel, accounting for 2.3 million Americans – a 0.2 percent decrease from last year.

According to a survey of intended travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Labor Day holiday weekend is expected to be 626 miles, up slightly from last year's average 608 miles. Despite the longer average travel distance, about half of holiday travelers (54 percent) will be taking shorter-distance trips, between 100 and 400 round-trip miles. The increase in expected air travel is a contributing factor to the slight lift in the average travel distance as air trips typically span longer distances than automobile trips, many more than 1,500 round-trip miles.

Median spending is expected to total $749, a small increase over the $702 median spending of intended holiday travelers in 2011.

According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, Labor Day holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase four percent from a year ago with travelers spending an average of $154 per night compared to $148 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay six percent more for an average cost of $117 per night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $39, a ten percent decrease from one year ago.

National gas prices have been particularly sensitive to regional variations throughout much of the year. On April 5 and 6, motorists experienced a year-to-date peak national average price of $3.94 per gallon for regular gasoline.  The current national average price of regular gasoline (August 21, 2012) is $3.717 per gallon, which is 22 cents below the April peak and 15 cents more than last year's price on August 21. South Dakota's statewide average today stands at $3.747, which is 18 cents above the price average one month ago and 15 cents above the year-ago average.

Gasoline purchases are critical expenditures in most household budgets, yet 66 percent of intended holiday travelers said their current household finances would not negatively impact their Labor Day holiday weekend travel plans. As the Labor Day holiday weekend approaches, increases in gas prices could cause some travelers to alter their plans. Conversely, falling prices could spur last-minute travel increases.

Barring any significant unforeseen events such as severe hurricanes, geopolitical incidents or dramatic nationwide price increases, gas prices are not expected to have a major impact on Labor Day holiday weekend travel. Historically, incidents that impact regional gas prices and regional travel have not impacted nationwide holiday travel.

AAA's digital tools for travel planning "on the go" include eTourBook guides for 101 top North American destinations, free to members at AAA.com/ebooks. Titles include cities, such as Orlando, New York and Las Vegas, as well as National Parks.

The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone and Android devices uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find current gas prices and nearby member discounts and access AAA roadside assistance. Information about the AAA Mobile app and AAA Mobile Web can be found at AAA.com/mobile.

At AAA.com, travelers can find thousands of AAA Approved and Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants using AAA's TripTik Travel Planner or the searchable Travel Guides at AAA.com/Travel.

Labor Day travel projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA in 2009 to jointly analyze travel trends during major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2012 Independence Day Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at NewsRoom.AAA.com.

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